Souza's 'New Bossa Nova' Covers Pop Standards Luciana Souza's The New Bossa Nova features pop standards set to a Brazilian bossa nova beat.


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Souza's 'New Bossa Nova' Covers Pop Standards

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Luciana Souza is a Brazilian-born singer with an intimate familiarity with bossa nova. But since her last album in 2005, she's found a new way to approach it. Now, she has moved from New York to Venice Beach. She has a new record label. And her new album is titled, appropriately, "The New Bossa Nova."

Michelle Mercer brings us this review.

(Soundbite of music)

MICHELLE MERCER: Bossa nova is many things, but in essence it's a slower version of samba; a shift from upbeat dance to down-tempo contemplation. One of the first things you notice about Luciana Souza's bossa versions of pop standards is that she actually gives you time to think about the lyrics.

(Soundbite of song "Never Die Young")

Ms. LUCIANA SOUZA (Singer): (Singing) We were ring-around-the-rosy children. They were circles around the sun. Never give up, never slow down, never grow old, never ever die young.

MERCER: On James Taylor's "Never Die Young," performed here with Taylor, Luciana's arrangement is like water quietly undulating through the lyric, washing out fresh meanings in the words.

(Soundbite of song "Never Die Young")

Ms. SOUZA and Mr. JAMES TAYLOR (Singers): (Singing) And we who couldn't bear to believe they might take it, we got to close our eyes. To cut up our losses into doable doses, ration our tears and sighs.

MERCER: Bossa nova is often about love, or longing for it. And there are plenty of broken hearted love songs here, like Randy Newman's "Living Without You." But as a lyrical form, bossa doesn't tell a story so much as capture a mood in a still life portrait.

Luciana uses this timeless quality to get meditative. On Leonard Cohen's "Here It Is," she feels the dramatic incantation of the lyrics so deeply that she barely sings them.

(Soundbite of song "Here It Is")

Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) May everyone live, everyone die. Hello, my love, and my love, goodbye.

MERCER: With her understated delivery, just enough tone comes out for a plea, and it becomes a love song to something inevitable.

(Soundbite of song "Here It Is")

Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) And here is the night, the night has begun. Here is your death in the heart of your son.

MERCER: Luciana certainly has the pedigree for this project. She's the daughter of a prominent songwriting team, and her childhood home in Sao Paolo was frequented by bossa legends.

Still, it was only after Luciana used bossa nova to underscore the poetry of American songs that she felt confident enough to remake one of the most iconic bossa standards, Tom Jobim's "Waters of March."

(Soundbite of song "Waters of March")

Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road. It's the rest of a stump, a little alone.

MERCER: Luciana emphasizes the poetry in the lyrics, speaking the music of the language itself. That strategy brings out the song's architecture. You hear how Jobim's melody always comes to rest on the noun - stick, stone, road, alone. We arrive at the elemental again and again.

(Soundbite of song "Waters of March")

Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) A cliff, a fall. The scratch of lump, nothing at all. It's the wind blowing free, it's the end of the slope. It's a beam, it's a void. It's a hunch, it's a hope. And the riverbank talks of the waters of March. It's the end of the strain. It's the joy in your heart.

MERCER: Many of us fall in love with the song's combination of music and lyrics into an elusive third entity. They become so accustomed to that magical combination that we hardly hear the lyrics anymore.

Luciana Souza uses bossa nova to restore to us the rich meaning of songs, even some of the most familiar ones.

(Soundbite of song "Waters of March")

Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) A horse and a mule. In the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue.

BLOCK: The CD is "The New Bossa Nova" by Luciana Souza. Our reviewer is Michelle Mercer.

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